As businesses start reopening, HR teams are thinking about what a post-COVID-19 workplace might look like –– especially if that includes a return to physical office spaces. Should your company implement a hybrid schedule? What do you need to keep your distributed workforce connected? There are a lot of questions that come with reopening, and sometimes it helps to get a sense of how others are approaching the same situation.
Resources for Humans (RfH) – a Slack community of over 12,000 HR leaders – recently hosted a virtual working session for members to discuss how People teams are navigating their companies’ return to work plans. Here are some of the session’s key takeaways:
1. Define your return-to-work strategy for your team.
With remote work being a new reality for many, it’s common for everyone to have their own definition of what a hybrid work entails. To avoid confusion with your teams, HR leaders suggest defining the parameters of your return-to-work strategy early on. Setting clear guidelines for employee expectations allows your teams to prepare for the changes ahead with confidence. Like any culture shift, it’s important to have executive buy-in for the new model.
“If we define [our return-to-work strategy] at a leadership level first, it's easier for people to adjust to it. I think it's a little bit chaotic if people decide on their own what the definitions are, so there needs to be a clear definition.” - Steph Martin, VP of People at Affinity.
“The idea of executive buy-in is so important. If you're asking people to come in, or fully work remotely, or hybrid, or whatever your company chooses, and there's no buy-in from senior leadership...you’re going to experience friction in your teams.” - Timothy Nurnberger, VP of Human Resources at Campaign Solutions.
Once you’ve clearly defined, agreed, and communicated the new working model to your teams, community members recommended performing a pulse check with employees. This allows HR teams a chance to get ahead of any issues that someone may have with the proposed plan and to work through those challenges together.
2. Put equity and flexibility at the forefront.
People management is all about putting people first. The pandemic forced leaders to recognize their teams have lives outside of work, and that the lines between work and home have been forever blurred. RfH members said being sensitive to employee’s personal lives, while being inclusive and equitable is key for a successful return to work — along with keeping your top performers satisfied.
“The more a leadership and HR team is supportive of people's whole life, versus just their work life, the more it will help retention and productivity and morale.” - Fern Schroeder, HR Manager at Syntellis Performance Solutions.
“In order to help our parents on the team feel supported, we've really given our employees the opportunity to communicate what time they need offline. Whether that's however long of a ‘no meeting’ block, you can make up those hours later, if that works best for you. We can work around your schedule.” - Rose Legge, People Operations Associate at Climb Credit.
Accessibility, both in office and remote, is also top-of-mind for many HR teams. With hybrid workplaces, standardizing forms of communication and creating equal opportunities for engagement can be a big help in bridging the divide between remote and onsite employees.
“How do you ensure both [in office and remote employees are] getting the same experience working with that leader and getting the same paths to promotion and getting the same feedback and getting the same collaboration time and getting the same access? One is by physically sitting next to them, and one is by virtually sitting next to them. So that's really top of mind for us, in terms of figuring out, what does this look like?” - Adrienne Barnard SVP, People Operations & Experience at AdmitHub.
“When I'm creating a cultural norms document, I am trying to think of a visual way to represent outside-in, so that when you're thinking of a meeting or a social event, you think first about who's not in front of you. You think, who's out there in the wild? And then bring them in, and make sure that they feel included. So it's kind of an outside-in inclusivity...it's more about a mindset versus physicality.” - Steph Martin, VP of People at Affinity.
“To help our remote employees feel included, if you're in a conference room, there might be a conference phone in the room that you just use for audio, and everyone still has their camera on their faces. And that way you still feel like that one-to-one contact, versus the divide of having everyone at a table and then someone on the screen.” - Rose Legge, People Operations Associate at Climb Credit.
3. Refresh your tech stack.
With teams spread out across time zones, RfH members said using the tools available to you to stay organized is paramount for keeping teams on track and increasing productivity. Some teams might choose to set sprint periods for projects with clear deadlines and frequent check-ins, while others might opt to break down quarterly OKRs into weekly goals.
Many managers use tools like Lattice for goals, engagement surveys, or one-on-ones to run pulse checks with employees and proactively catch any signs of burnout or help course correct when needed.
“I think it's actually easier to understand who the highest-performing members of my team are in a remote work environment...if the output starts to drop off a cliff, that's when I know that somebody has been overworked for the past two or three sprints, and now we need to pull back as a team and refocus on where they should be spending their time." - Zachary Putzman, Director of Revenue at Wethos.
“It's not actually about the tool, it's about how the tool can promote asynchronous communication. It's about how that tool can promote better time management. It's about how that tool can better promote organization.” - Amber Jones, Senior Operations Manager at Wethos.
After a year of remote work, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are at the top of the list for keeping teams connected, but members also suggested Gather for team building during and after work. For hybrid teams, meeting over Zoom won’t be the same when you see a group together on the other side of the screen, but tools like Neat Bars can help lessen the feeling of inaccessibility. Test different things until you find what works best for your teams.
“If you’re having a meeting in the office and people being remote, it's not going to be the same as being over Zoom. To make the best of the situation, we've installed Neat Bars –– it's basically like a camera with a soundbar underneath the TV. Neat is now working with Zoom and they have this thing called "Neat symmetry” [which captures each person in the meeting].” - Jamie Edwards, Office Manager at Lattice.
“For our company, the combination of email and Microsoft Teams was really effective. [Teams] provides another quick, easier way to communicate with an entire team, other than dashing off a whole email. I think between all of that and Zoom, it's been a nice combination.” - Chelsea Coffman, Office/HR Admin at Syntellis Performance Solutions.
4. Promote collaboration with schedule tracking.
With less face time in the office, spontaneous collaboration between teams is harder to come by. Be intentional about your time in the office and build in opportunities for team members to work together in real time by utilizing schedule tracking. This takes the load off of HR teams to manage collaboration opportunities and gives your employees the opportunity to coordinate and collaborate on their own time. RfH members had great things to say about utilizing programs and tools to streamline the efforts of schedule tracking like Envoy or Eden.
“One of the reasons why you want to [track schedules], is for other people in the agency to have visibility. So they can see, ‘so and so is in the office today, I actually have a meeting with them and it would be great if we can meet face-to-face.’” - Trisha Chong, People Operations Manager at Mering.
“It’s great to utilize ‘cohort’ or ‘neighborhood’ features, where you can assign people on certain days. And in Envoy, you can actually invite coworkers on the app if you decide you all want to go in on Thursday. It allows for more purposeful collaboration. It'll make people think ahead more than they ever have been.” - Steph Martin, VP of People at Affinity.
5. Continue to focus on employee well-being.
There’s no doubt that this past year has been mentally and emotionally challenging, which is why it’s so important to be gentle with ourselves and our teams. Jones said it best: “It can't all be about the work, especially in an environment where work and life and home have literally morphed into one whole situation, which is very chaotic.”
RfH members shared ways they promote healthy habits for their employees and how they plan to continue creating opportunities for employees to connect remotely.
“We offer each team member a mental health day each quarter, to take that time, reset, vibe out, do whatever you need to do so that you're feeling energized to continue to be motivated and do great work.” - Amber Jones, Senior Operations Manager at Wethos.
“Something else we do is we have a ‘Heads Down’ day throughout the entire company, which means nobody can schedule a meeting on your calendar for that day, and it just gives you that one day a week [for] deep focus and no interruptions.” - Zachary Prutzman, Director of Revenue at Wethos.
“As we go hybrid, [we’re going to continue] treating everyone as if they're remote...Remote happy hours are still going to be something we value...Through this random coffee event, or through just the social activities that pair people up randomly, that's helped people communicate more with people who they normally wouldn't [and] doing those activities have really helped us keep those [connections].” - Rose Legge, People Operations Associate at Climb Credit.
If this past year has proven anything, it’s how adaptable and supportive People teams can be. Testing new workplace models requires more flexibility as you try to change people’s mindsets around work. Your people will appreciate it, said Legge. “I think us being flexible over the past year has really made people a lot more comfortable in communicating their needs. And we've gotten a lot of employee satisfaction from that” she said.
HR professionals are setting the standard for the year ahead, and doing the hard work of navigating the way to a successful return to work. Those are just some of the insights shared during a recent Resources for Humans virtual working session. If you haven’t already, join the over 12,000 HR leaders that make up our Slack community.